10. Oct. 1, 2013 – Tennis team falls short in comeback attempt, still wins M8.
What Happened: The Monticello girls tennis team entered the last match of the regular season needing a win over Princeton to cap an undefeated conference schedule and earn an outright Mississippi 8 Championship.
Things did not get off to a good start. The first three matches to be decided on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon went the way of the Princeton Tigers, and rather easily.
But the Magic had some fight left in them.
Their three senior singles players, Grace Sawatzke, Brooke Volpone and Kendra Stoick, all battled to earn big victories. Volpone’s and Stoick’s came in three sets, while Sawatzke won hers in two sets after reversing a 5-1 deficit in the second set.
The Magic would ultimately come up short, however, as the final match of the day went the way of the Tigers. The Magic still earned a share of the conference championship.
My take: There will be a few losses that pop up on the list this year, because truly, teams can sometimes show more in defeat than they do in victory. This was one of those times. The three singles players certainly knew that their team had fallen in a big hole, one that they were unlikely to climb out of, and any one of them could have phoned in the rest of their match, taking the loss and turning their attention to sections. Instead, each individual showed a lot of heart, meshed with plenty of skill, as they slowly turned the tides back in their favor, for at least a while.
As Coach Jeff Bordwell said, “That’s that senior stuff right there. That’s what the experience gets you.”
It was, hands down, the most exciting tennis match I’ve been to during my time here. With the conference on the line, the courts were energetic from the start. But as the Magic rallied and the result became a toss-up, there was truly a buzz in the air.
Plus, a share of the program’s first-ever conference title isn’t exactly a poor consolation prize.
9. Oct. 15, 2013 – Time runs out on boys soccer season
What Happened: The Magic, hosting Hermantown in the section semifinals, lost a thrilling one-goal match despite playing 90 percent of the game down a man. Monticello, the second seed in the section, lost a man to ejection early in the game for a handball in the goal crease. Facing sloppy conditions, a tough opponent and an uphill climb, the Magic didn’t give in.
They did, however, take some time to adjust. Hermantown controlled play in the first half, eventually scoring on their second penalty kick of the game, to take a 1-0 lead into the half. In the second half, Hermantown added an early tally and with the Magic trailing 2-0 and a man short, it appeared the finish would just be a formality.
Instead, the Magic, led by seniors Brody Grantz and Zach Beaumaster, kept attacking Hermantown in waves. Midway through the second half, it paid off. A corner kick from Grantz found Beaumaster, and he connected, putting the ball into the net.
The score would remain there however, as the rest of Monticello’s advances came up just short and the Magic were eliminated from postseason play.
My Take: Without question, this was one of the grittiest efforts turned in by a Magic team during the last calendar year. Like in the tennis match above, the boys had every reason to fold and call it a good season when they trailed 2-0, were down a man, and playing a cold, wet field. But they had one big reason not to – a group of seniors who didn’t want their careers to end. Coach Chad Carlson was likely as satisfied as any coach I’ve talked to following a season-ending loss, and rightfully so. This game was certainly one of the more valiant defeats I’ve covered here.
One other thing that made the game special was the brilliant play of goaltender Tanner Fischer. Without him, Monticello would have never had a chance to make things interesting late. Fischer stopped an early penalty shot, and then plenty of shots to follow, keeping the Magic within striking distance all day.
8. Feb. 14, 2013 – Lady hoopers knock off ranked Knights squad
What Happened: Monticello’s biggest win of the regular season came in their third-to-last game. Taking on St. Michael-Albertville, a team that has been the class of the conference for years, Monticello pulled out a 49-48 thriller at home.
The Knights entered the game on an 11-game winning streak, and ranked No. 8 in Class AAAA. And they got off to a strong start against the Magic. But Monticello settled in, and the conference showdown turned into a game-long back and forth battle. The game was in doubt till the final seconds, but in retrospect it ended with about two minutes to go. That’s when, trailing 47-46, Gabby Laimer stepped into and drilled a three-pointer, giving Monticello a lead they would not relinquish.
My Take: This was a monumental win for a Magic team that went on to set program records in the postseason (we’ll get there). I believe that beating a team of STMA’s caliber (the Knights would advance to the Class AAAA State Tournament), helped the Magic believe that they could legitimately compete at the Class AAA State Tournament. It was a game that could have gone either way, and appeared multiple times like it was going to turn in the direction of one team or the other. But for the Magic, Grace Sawatzke provided a steady hand against the Knights’ pressure, constantly keeping the Magic calm and always within striking distance. And Laimer provided the heroics. The late three, her fourth of the game, was just one of many big shots the junior hit throughout the season.
Plus, making Coach Craig Geyen happy, the Magic turned in a brilliant effort on defense, holding the talented Knights to just 48 points.
7. Nov. 2, 2013 – Seidenkranz is great, and again All-State
What Happened: Two years removed from being crowned state champions, the Magic sent just one representative to the Class AA state meet. But she was a good one. Senior Amber Seidenkranz finished in a time of 14:46, earning a 22nd place finish at the state meet and securing her school record fifth-straight All-State honor.
My Take: It was an appropriate finish to the career of one of Monticello’s all-time most successful individual athletes. Seidenkranz was a model of consistency throughout her career, constantly improving and never falling behind, even while the amount of overall talent and cross country grew by leaps and bounds. The most telling state about the wild growth and improvement of girls cross country is that Seidenkranz’s time at her first-ever state meet, which earned her a tenth place finish, would have gotten her a 47th place finish at her senior state meet, just four years later. Fortunately for the Magic, Seidenkranz grew and improved along with the pack, and in the end she totaled one of the more impressive five-year careers in program and school history.
6. March 2, 2013 – Two Magic wrestlers fare well at state
What Happened: The Magic sent eight wrestlers to the state tournament. Six were eliminated in the first round. But the two who moved on certainly made the most of it. Senior Logan Stiller earned a fourth place finish and junior Zach Beaumaster finished fifth in his weight class, earning two medals for the Magic.
Stiller earned a 7-1 first round victory over an opponent he had split with during the regular season. But in the next round, the quarterfinals, Stiller fell 5-0. The senior bounced back with a 2-1 decision in the first round of wrestlebacks, allowing him to advance to the second day. The first match Saturday brought another close decision, a 4-3 win, as he advanced to the afternoon matches. In the match that determined whether he would wrestle for third or fifth place, Stiller won a thriller. He forced a stalling call with just seconds left in the third period to forge a 1-1 tie and send the match into overtime. In the third overtime period Stiller earned an escape in the waning seconds, capping a wild victory. Stiller would eventually lose 13-5 in the third-place match.
Beaumaster followed nearly an identical route. He won a 9-0 decision, before falling 4-1. He bounced back quickly with a 3-0 victory in the nightcap. On Saturday Beaumaster shut his opponent out for a second straight match, winning by a score of 1-0. The junior then dropped the match that determined whether he would wrestle for third or fifth, but he bounced back with a nailbiting 6-5 victory in the fifth-place match.
My Take: Two more fantastic individual efforts during the 2013 calendar year. Both Beaumaster and Stiller found ways to win close early matches that could have gone either way and both found themselves rewarded with the chance to wrestle in the medal rounds. The highlight of this event was how happy both wrestlers were with what they’d accomplished. Stiller, especially. The senior, who Coach Andy Zigan described as having a “smile from ear to ear” on the Saturday at the meet, knew he left everything he had at the Xcel Energy Center.
“There were no tears going out,” said Stiller at the time. “I can look back and say I gave it my all. I did the best I could. I did better than I thought I could.”
5. Sept. 6, 2013 – Football team erases mistakes with one big play
What Happened: Monticello played a sloppy football game for 47 minutes and 30 seconds in their home opener this past season. The result was a 7-7 tie with North Branch, a team that would finish near the bottom of the conference, as time winded down. But Monticello, who had committed 15 penalties for a total of 155 yards, had the ball and had one last chance to erase all the mistakes.
They did just that.
Their final drive led them to the 27-yard line with just three seconds left. On the last snap of regulation, Jake Berthiaume dropped back and looked down the seam, where he spotted a wide-open Matt Grathwohl. Berthiaume hit his wide receiver in stride, Grathwohl put a juke on one defender and found himself waltzing into the back of the end zone for a Magic win.
My Take: For 98 percent of this ball game, it was truly one of the uglier games I covered this year. But the Magic defense showed an all-important ability to bend but not break, helping keep Monti in the game, and the offense showed impressive resolve on the final drive. That drive was led by one of the better individual efforts of the football season. Berthiaume, the senior quarterback, was poised and precise throughout the drive, hitting on several key passes, including a “how did he get that in there” back shoulder throw to his favorite target, Andrew Manning. And as the clock ticked down the quarterback showed he had his wits about him, finding the open man on the last play of the game, rather than forcing it to a different target. Grathwohl rewarded him for his choice.
All in all, it wasn’t necessarily a great game. But it was likely the best final play, and one of the best final minutes, of the calendar year for any Magic sports team, and that warrants a spot on this list.
4. Dec. 13, 2013 – Moose have all the answers in last second victory over Saints
What Happened: The Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake hockey team knocked off St. Francis, 4-3, behind an Oliver Winsor goal with just four seconds remaining in overtime.
The game was a back-and-forth battle throughout. St. Francis, the visiting team, took a 1-0 lead just two-and-a-half minutes into the game. It took just 30 seconds for the Moose to answer. Drew Brockman put the puck in the back of the net, tying the game at 1. The score remained there until there were just over two minutes left in the second period, when St. Francis scored to take a 2-1 lead. Just over a minute later, with 33 seconds remaining in the period, the Moose answered. A power-play goal from Brooke Evans tied things right back up at 2.
In the third period, the Moose finally grabbed a lead. With around nine minutes remaining in regulation, Winsor controlled the puck on the right wing. The senior let a bad angle shot fly toward the net, and somehow it found its way in, giving M.A.M.L the lead, 3-2. This time it was the Saints that had the answer. With just 21 seconds left, and their goalie off the ice in favor of an extra attacker, St. Francis scored on a bad angle shot of their own, tying the game at 3 and sending it to an extra session.
In that extra session, Colton Jones set up Winsor for the game winner, capping a thrilling back-and-forth affair that the Moose refused to give up on.
My Take: Two things stood out about this game. First, how quickly the game developed a theme. As a writer, I am of course looking for themes at every game I’m at. This time, it took about three minutes. When the Moose scored a tying goal just 30 seconds after giving up the first goal of the game, it looked like the Moose were going to show an ability to answer. And then they continued to show that all night. Every time they faced a deficit, or a penalty kill, or any kind of big moment, the Moose had an answer. As the game moved along, I kept thinking ‘man, this is setting up perfectly.’ Then, it went to overtime, and it appeared to be headed toward a 3-3 tie and me completely reworking my “Moose have an answer for everything” theme. Then, what do ya know. The Moose find one more answer.
And that was the second thing that stood out. For much of overtime, the Moose looked gassed. St. Francis controlled play, and the home team had a difficult time generating any kind of a chance. Even on the final play of the game, when Colton Jones took the puck out of the defensive zone and charged forward with Winsor to his right, he was clearly exhausted. Yet, they found just enough in the tank to do exactly what they had to get done. Jones nearly lost the puck twice, but both times regained it in the nick of time, before perfectly setting up Winsor in front of the net. Winsor did the rest, tipping the puck up and past the goalie for what had to be one of the most dramatic wins in program history.
3. Feb. 21, 2013 – Riverhawks dramatic comeback falls short in OT
What Happened: North Wright County, playing in their second state tournament in three years, entered their quarterfinal game with Lakeville North looking for their first-ever state tournament win. More than once, it looked like they would get it.
The Riverhawks got off to a strong start in the late game at Xcel Energy Center, as they jumped out to a 2-1 lead over the favored Lakeville North squad.
But in the second period, and for much of the third, NWC was consistently outplayed and outshot. With six minutes to go in the game, Lakeville North had erased their deficit and turned it into a 4-2 lead over the Hawks.
NWC had time for one final push – and they took advantage.
With four minutes remaining, Rachel Heiber’s strong forecheck led to a takeaway and her bad angle shot led to a rebound right in front of the net. Maddi Sjelin knew what to do. The senior put the puck past the Lakeville goalie, pulling NWC to within one.
Less than a minute later, Rachel King generated another good scoring chance for the Hawks. Her shot from an odd angle didn’t rebound, but the goaltender also didn’t know where it was. King, being one of the only players on the ice to see the puck, broke for the net, and knocked the puck loose from near the goalie’s skate. It bounced to Kaleigh Hamann who deposited it in the back of the net, tying the game up at 4.
The Hawks generated a couple more scoring opportunities during the final three minutes of regulation, as well as a few in the opening minutes of overtime. But they couldn’t find a game-winner. And when a NWC penalty sent Lakeville North on a power-play, the higher-seed sent NWC to the consolation bracket, scoring a goal with four minutes remaining in the overtime period for a 5-4 victory.
My Take: From start to finish, one of the two most exciting games of the year. This would have been a memorable game if it was the first game of the regular season. The fact that it happened at the state tournament made it borderline unforgettable. What was amazing about the game was how outmatched North Wright County looked for the middle portion of the game. And then how quickly, with just a couple positive plays, momentum shifted and the Hawks became the better team, the dominant team. With six minutes remaining, I doubt there were more than 10 fans in the arena who would have given the Hawks any kind of a chance. Four minutes later, most probably weren’t giving Lakeville North much of a chance. And while it was a shame to see such a brilliant late effort go to waste, it was just as impressive to watch the Hawks bounce back early the next day to topple a quality Irondale team, 3-0, earning that elusive first win at the state tournament.
2. March 2, 2013 – Senior swimmers cement legacy with four more titles
What Happened: In two words, Paul Fair. The senior added two more individual titles, bringing his three-year haul to six, and was a part of two-state-championship winning relays, bringing his, and the program’s overall total to 12 state championships over the last three years.
Fair won the 200-yard freestyle race, finishing in a time of 1:40.84, as well as the 100 butterfly, where he finished in 49.63, for his two individual championships.
For the relays, he was joined by Evan Lahr, Blaise Nyberg and his brother, Jack Fair.
In the 200 free relay, the first three swimmers combined to hand Paul a two-second lead when he jumped into the pool. The senior cruised to a time of 1:24.87, breaking a Class A record that was already held by the Magic.
In the 400 free relay, it was much of the same. Aided by the best swim of Nyberg’s career, Fair was again handed a big lead and again sealed the deal.
The individual championships, combined with more strong individual efforts from Lahr, Jack Fair, Lawrence Krause and others, helped Monticello to a second-place finish at the Class A State Meet, finishing behind powerhouse St. Thomas Academy.
My Take: What can you say that hasn’t been said?
Last year’s senior swim class was about as special as it gets. Covering Paul Fair in the pool truly felt like a once-in-a-decade experience at the high school level, and his teammates weren’t that far behind him.
What was perhaps most impressive about the group was just how undaunted they were by the expectations that surrounded them. By last year, everyone in the state who knows anything about swimming knew about Monticello and expected big things from the Magic. The kids had the same expectations for themselves. Yet, they never let those expectations weigh them down. They were a group that always seemed to be loose, smiling on deck during relays, posing for pictures in the warmup pool and conversing with opponents after races.
It is crazy to think that anything less than four state championships last year would have been a disappointment to this team and program, but really, any result other than four championships was never really in play.
1. March 13, 2013 – Magic topple unbeaten Fergus Falls at hoops state tournament
What Happened: Well, everything.
This double overtime quarterfinal thriller featured blown leads and big comebacks, clutch shots and costly turnovers, foul trouble and endless story lines, and great plays. Loads of great plays.
Monticello, making its second consecutive state tournament appearance and searching for its first-ever state tournament win, squared off against Fergus Falls, a team that hadn’t lost since the previous year’s state tournament and a team that was seeded third, but ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the year.
The Magic, behind star guard Grace Sawatzke, jumped out to an early lead at Williams Arena. With Sawatzke orchestrating the fast break, Monticello led 16-6, seven minutes into the game.
But then, trouble.
Sawatzke slipped into foul trouble and the Magic lead slipped away. A 15-0 run by the Otters gave them a five-point lead, and plenty of momentum. At the half, the Otters led 32-25. In the second half, Fergus Falls continued to control play. They stretched the lead to 15 points with 12 minutes remaining. And as the clock ticked down to just six minutes remaining, the lead stayed at 12 points.
Monticello needed to make something happen quick, and they did. Sawatzke hit a triple and Lentner added a bucket plus a free throw. Suddenly, the lead was cut to six. After Kallie Gau added one free throw and fellow senior Bailey Bechtold drained two free throws, Monticello was back within three with just over four minutes left.
Over the next few minutes, Monticello stayed close, but couldn’t pull even.
A Lentner three-pointer helped keep the Magic within two in the final minutes, setting up some late game heroics from Sawatzke.
After a missed free throw by Fergus Falls, Sawatzke corralled the outlet pass and headed downcourt. Nothing was going to get between the junior and the basket. She went coast-to-coast, finishing at the rim to finally tie the game up with just 15 seconds remaining. After a missed final shot by Fergus Falls, the game headed to overtime.
In the first extra session the teams traded baskets and stops, ending the extra stanza tied once again and forcing a second session. This time, trailing by one with a couple minutes remaining, it was Lentner and Bechtold that came up big. A steal by Lentner, followed by incredible hustle, led her to a go-ahead layup in the second session. Aided by clutch free throws from Bechtold, it was a lead that the Magic wouldn’t relinquish. When the final horn sounded, the Magic held a 79-78 edge, and their first ever state tournament win.
My Take: It takes a lot to knock the boys swim team out of the No. 1 spot. But this game was A LOT. It featured everything you could ask for in a high school athletic competition. Most importantly, it featured so many different players stepping up.
Monticello got star play from their stars, namely Sawatzke, who led the charge early and late and finished with 23 points to go along with eight assists. But the Magic also got star-level contributions from a handful of other players. Lentner, who started slow, finished incredibly strong on her way to 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Laimer and Bechtold both played fearless down the stretch, hitting big shots on their way to 16 points apiece. And Gau, a senior, played nail tough on defense, helping the Magic garner all the stops they needed down the stretch.
Pushing this game over the top, as if it needed anything else, was an incredible Magic crowd. Parents, students and community members packed their sections of Williams Arena and roared down the stretch as the Magic closed the gap on Fergus Falls. It was one of very few high school games I’ve been to, as a reporter, a player, or a fan, where the crowd felt like it may have actually impacted the game.
And of course, the girls returned the favor, putting on the best Magic show of the year for the crowd to enjoy.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]